‘Environment and society in the Neolithic of the Central Zagros, Iraq’

The placement is in the field of archaeology and ancient environment. The placement will involve analysis and interpretation of core samples from the site of Bestansur, Iraq, dated to 7500 BC.

Department: Archaeology

Supervised by: Roger Matthews

The Placement Project

This placement will take place within the context of the Central Zagros Archaeological Project (CZAP), a major multi-disciplinary investigation hosted at the University of Reading and co-directed by Professor Roger Matthews and Dr Wendy Matthews ( CZAP is researching the origins and early development of sedentary settlement and domestication of plants and animals in the Early Neolithic period, 10,000-6500 BC. The placement sits firmly within CZAP and will make a major contribution to the project’s research aims and objectives. In particular in this placement, the student will examine firstly the nature, depth, density and extent of settlement at the Neolithic site of Bestansur by the study of core samples collected systematically from 3 transects across the 200m wide site at 50m intervals. The student will also conduct a simultaneous pilot study of the early Holocene environment by comparative analysis of 3 targeted cores from key locales within 3km of the site: the adjacent large perennial karstic spring/river, the surrounding plain and the foothills. The cores will be collected prior to the placement in spring 2014 by Quaternary Scientific (QUEST) supervised by Roger Matthews and Wendy Matthews in discussion with Dr Nicholas Branch. The analyses of the sediments and micro-fossils from these 15 cores will be conducted by the student during the placement in summer 2014 in the Department of Archaeology, supervised by Roger Matthews, Nicholas Branch and Wendy Matthews. We anticipate that results from the placement will feed directly into the project’s publication programme.


The placement tasks will be evenly distributed across the six weeks and will comprise: Week 1: Modelling of the sub-surface sedimentary architecture to reconstruct the sedimentary history of the site using field data collected from the 15 cores; the sedimentary models will be used to comment on episodes of natural and human-induced environmental change; the student will be trained to use appropriate modelling software, in particular ArcScene GIS and RockWorks. Week 2: Sub-samples collected from the core samples will be used to quantify the main phases of sedimentary change to enhance the field-based data and interpretation of the sedimentary models; the student will be trained in standard methods to measure the physical properties of sediments, namely organic matter (by Loss-on-Ignition) and particle size analysis (by laser granulometer). Week 3: Sub-samples collected from the core samples will also be used to evaluate the potential for reconstructing the vegetation history of the study area; the student will be trained in pollen extraction methods and the identification of key pollen taxa to enable articulation of the main phases of vegetation change, especially indicators of human activity. Week 4: The same sub-samples will be also be used for a diatom assessment; these unicellular algae will be used to reconstruct the hydrological history of the sites; key changes in palaeohydrology can then be linked to phases of climate and environmental change; the student will be trained in diatom extraction methods and the identification of key taxa. Week 5: The sub-samples will also be used for a phytolith assessment; the student will be trained in phytolith extraction methods and the identification of key taxa to enable a provisional reconstruction of vegetation change, land-use and human exploitation of plant taxa. Week 6: Synthesis and report preparation; the student will be trained in standard approaches to the integration of multi-proxy datasets of climate and environmental change, and comparison of these data with the archaeological and wider environmental history of the region. Full training and close supervision will be provided in all the above by QUEST.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The placement requires a dedicated and keen student willing to learn new skills through the course of the placement. Otherwise, no special skills or knowledge are essential in advance of the placement. Desired skills/knowledge/experience include an interest in environmental archaeology and in the archaeology of the Middle East, including the Neolithic period, and an interest in science and archaeology. There are no special travel requirements.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The placement will provide a programme of genuine research engagement for the student. A wide range of specific skills will be developed, namely the extraction, identification and analysis of micro-fossils from sediment samples (pollen, diatoms, phytoliths); description and analysis of physical properties of sediments; use of software (ArcScene GIS and RockWorks) in order to model the sedimentary history. Transferrable skills development will include: working as a team member on a multi-disciplinary AHRC-funded research project; learning the workings of a small business (QUEST) and its integration with archaeological research; producing a scientific report based on original research; working to a deadline. It is expected that the student will be a co-author on a chapter in the final publication of the Central Zagros Archaeological Project.

Place of Work

The place of work will be the offices and laboratories of the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, in particular the palaeoecology and sedimentology suite of laboratories in the Wager Building, Whiteknights campus.

Hours of Work

9-5 Mon-Fri

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 07 July 2014 - Friday 15 August 2014

How to Apply

Students should submit a cover letter and cv. Interviews will be conducted by Prof R. Matthews, Dr N. Branch and Dr W. Matthews.

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